Part of the best backfield in the NFL, Cleveland Browns RB Kareem Hunt is one of the best running backs in football when given the opportunity. While his fantasy football outlook does take a hit due to the timeshare, Hunt is still a value at his current ADP.
Kareem Hunt’s fantasy outlook for 2021
If not for sharing a backfield with Nick Chubb, Hunt would be a fantasy football star. Ever since he broke onto the scene as a rookie with Kansas City and rushed for 1,327 yards, Hunt has been one of the most talented players in the NFL.
Playing in 16 games for the first time since 2017, Hunt capitalized on his opportunities when Chubb was inactive due to an injury. In the five weeks where Chubb was injured (including Week 4), he averaged 17.2 touches for 79.2 yards and scored 4 touchdowns as the RB7 in PPR (14.7 points per game).
Hunt ended the season as the RB11 while averaging 13.7 ppg on 198 rushes for 841 yards and 6 touchdowns; he added 38 receptions (51 targets) for 304 yards and 5 more scores.
When you have a split backfield, you need the players to have complementary styles. Otherwise, they end up splitting touches from the same pool and decreasing each other’s value. With Hunt and Chubb, there is a clear delineation in how they are used, allowing both running backs to have fantasy relevance.
In the four games where Hunt played without Chubb, he averages 13.62 PPR points and 0.72 points per touch. In the 20 games with Chubb, Hunt averaged 13.23 PPR points and 1.09 points per touch.
The Browns have a clear path to touches for both players. It works congruent to each other’s skill set, creating a committee where both Chubb and Hunt have favorable fantasy outlooks.
Kareem Hunt’s fantasy projection
As mentioned above, Hunt is valuable with Chubb on the field, and without him, he’s a weekly RB1. Hunt’s usage in the passing game helps offset the lack of carries due to Chubb’s massive volume.
For fantasy production, unless you are an elite rusher like Chubb, targets are the best way to find value. In 2020 alone, a reception was worth 1.33 fantasy points more than a rush (0.4 per attempt). That is why we target pass-catching backs like Hunt year after year.
One aspect of running back evaluation that I think is sorely overlooked is the strength of the offensive line. I feel we lean too heavily on only the talent and volume of the running back and not enough on the quality of the run blocking.
It does no good if contact is coming behind the line of scrimmage (see Joe Mixon). Luckily for Hunt, he runs behind the best offensive line in football with Jack Conklin, Wyatt Teller, J.C. Tretter, Michael Dunn, and Jedrick Wills.
If we project the Browns to run roughly 30 times a game and target RBs on 17% of targets, Hunt should be a solid RB2 for fantasy managers in PPR formats. In my initial run-through of projections, I have Hunt with 165 rushes for 726 yards and 6 touchdowns while catching 42 passes (57 targets) for 371 yards and 4 more touchdowns (12.5 PPR ppg).
Kareem Hunt’s fantasy ADP
According to Sleeper, Hunt is currently being selected as the RB24 with an ADP of 51.4 in half PPR formats. In superflex leagues, given the priority afforded to quarterbacks, he falls slightly to 61.3.
On Fleaflicker, Hunt is coming off the board with an ADP of 50.3 but is being selected slightly later on average on the National Fantasy Championship platform (58.73).
Why you should draft Hunt in 2021
Hunt going as the RB22 in ADP is about right for his potential fantasy outlook in 2021. But I do not think I would want to go any higher. Outside of a select few running backs who do not split carries, we have to find the ones in the best situations. And it’s hard to find a better spot than Cleveland. Moreover, we already know that Hunt can maintain value in this offense.
In 2020, Hunt was an RB2 or better in 56.2% of his games (9 of 16). He was outside the top 37 in just three games (18%). Hunt was also just one of 12 running backs who were “startable” in nine or more games last season. And remember, this is while playing alongside one of the best players in the NFL.
If we look at the running backs going directly after him, I prefer Hunt over Myles Gaskin, Melvin Gordon, Leonard Fournette, and Raheem Mostert. Ideally, I would love to have Hunt as my RB3. However, assuming I landed an elite wide receiver or two along the way, I have no qualms with him as my RB2.